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Saturday, March 16, 2019

ROCK THE SHAM

March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, is upon us, and being of Irish descent those who know my last name and aware as well that some consider me a poet, a lover of words used fully, have started to ask me what my plans were. What party are you going to, what Irish Pub will you be drinking at, what Irish poet will you recite at the Open Reading of Irish Poetry? Attending the idea that you would want to celebrate a culture rich in the greatest ringing glories of the English language comes the question about how drunk you intend to get, and will you remember the way back to your bedroom at your mother's house if you become unable to utter a comprehensible sentence. There are times I hate being Irish; the jokes at the expense of this culture make it obvious that White European Americans are the only ethnic group one can offend with impunity. The Holiday is a match to a conspicuously open can of gasoline.On The Day itself, many will inquire “Where’s your green?” All these questions on the single topic become nagging of a kind, the persistent inquiry into what someone else takes as an imperfection. My imperfection seemed to be that I didn't feel Irish enough. I don’t wear green on any day, it’s not my favorite color, and there’s a deep resentment at others who expect me and any other Irish American to play the shaleighlei -stroking trick monkey with green paper hats, green beads and affecting brogues as bogus as paper forks. There’s a scene in Woody Allen’s movie “Annie Hall” when his character Alvy Singer berates a woman’s Jewishness with a number of wisecracks at the expense of the ethnic heritage he imagines her identifying with. The woman says nothing and Singer, feeling he’d crossed the line, gives a half-hearted apology for his jokes, to which she replies (and I paraphrase here) “No, it’s alright, I don’t mind being reduced to a cultural stereotype”This was a “eureka” moment, since it articulated a foul mood I’d been in for years each time St.Patrick’s Day rolled around and Americans, of Irish Lineage and otherwise, rolled out their boxes of stereotypes: green beer, whiskey, green beads, glittered cardboard shamrocks, the whole disgusting offensive lot.St.Patrick's is a day on which those of us with family connections to the Emerald Isle are to relish the contributions of Ireland to the world by way of it;s poets and dramatists and novelists, whether Joyce, Yeats, John Millington Synge or Roddy Doyle and Seamus Heaney, an activity of worth if the proceedings were low key and attentive to what Irish writing sounded like and what cluster of emotions and experience it collectively expressed; it's a literature at war with itself and, as such, conflicts and tensions such as that results in a major poetry. Bombast, bottles, and bullshit about all things Irish follow the lip service to the Literature and St.Patrick's Day become no more than respectful of it's cultural namesake than does Cinco de Mayo or Halloween. It's an excuse to drink to excess and behave badly and be a lout. It was assumed that because of my last name and that I made a living both writing and selling books that I would be all over the Holiday and partake in the lugubrious, drunken wallow. I remember yelling at some partying moron with an Italian last name who was doing a miserable Barry Fitzgerald impersonation that I had it in mind to come to his house late at night and do some patently offensive immigrant through a bullhorn if he kept up with what I thought was a cultural slander. Of course, he didn’t get what I was getting at, and I never showed up in his driveway to deliver on my promise, but the upshot is that he's never forced his face into mine after that with that wavering brogue.I resisted the temptation to ask if he did Minstrel Show impersonations for black people on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, as the point was both overkill and would be lost on him. Say what you might about me, but I pride myself on the quality of issues I waste my breath on, a perverse pleasure that might reaffirm the cliche of the Irish being masters of futile eloquence. Doubtful; I just love the sound of my own voice and don't compelled to credit cultural determinism for what is either a gift or a curse( depending on circumstance, inspiration, and the quality of the coffee I might have been drinking when inspired to place a few words on the page, in rhythmic order, declaring war on the latest peeve or pestering pustule of aggravation). It must be said that despite that small country’s amazing contributions to World Literature, I’ve never felt much kinship with Ireland, nor with the native Irish I’ve met. What I've felt like through my life is a middle-class white guy, Irish American, emphasis on the American. Irish-American.It's a different tribe.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

JIM IS STILL DEAD AND STILL SEXY

Image result for the doors five mean years
THE DOORS:
A Lifetime of Listening
to Five Mean Years
by Greil Marcus
Marcus is one of the remaining first-generation Rolling Stone rock critics who, in his old age, has evolved into something of a Methuselahian sage for the artist and band's populating the Rock and Roll Canon. He is a fine writer, beautifully evocative at times, a widely read gent who brings his far-flung references of history, aesthetics, politics, and mythology into his generalized ruminations on the movement of human history and how it was reflected and/or caused by the emergence of pop, rock and soul music. His idea, if he has any thesis at all, is that these were not merely forms of entertainment and distraction, they were cultural forces that changed the way we live. Marcus, as fine a prose stylist as he can be, and as momentarily persuasive as he can seem in his richer passages, actually puts forth little in the way of criticism; he rarely in his late writings spends the time to convincingly let you how songs, lyrics work internally. Craft is not on his agenda. With the Doors, though, he does a good job of explaining what I've always felt for some time, that Jim Morrison was pompous,, vacuous to major extent, a mediocre poet, a pretentious intellect who happened to have some things going for him: good looks and sex appeal, an appealing baritone voice could bellow or fashion a slumbering croon, and that he was in a band of good musicians that compelled him, in the songwriting process, to peel away the mostly dreadful riffing in his poems and boil it all down to the genuinely strange, exotic and provocative. The result of that combination of Morrison's affectations and the talents of the other band members made for a number of first-rate original songs. Save for the near perfection of their first two albums, it also made for some mostly uneven records where Morrison's drunk insistence on being a drunk put his worst tendencies on full display. Marcus is smart and remarkably succinct here, rendering shrewd judgments, the key one being that while saying up front than in any other life Morrison would have yet another counter-cultural tragedy left for dead and forgotten, rock and roll made him at least briefly pull his resources together and give the world something memorable beyond his pretentiousness.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

On getting fucked up


Yes, people really used to excuse a friend's uncontrolled drinking with the rationale that any one of us would likewise drink to excess if we had the life and travails of the associate who's inebriation causes concern. We like to think that we've learned much since those days when alcoholic excess seemed a way for a sensitive sort to melt away the crucifying agony that is the human condition and enter into a consciousness that allows to reacquaint himself with his Muse, to dream dreams and greater dreams after that, to see from the waves and wanderings of their stupors a clear vision of heaven and the path to get there. 

And, of course, drinking was the means with which the artist, the truly manly and mature among us handled our sorrows, those problematic feelings that are no less a part of the human drama. Would you drink if you had the same shortfalls, catastrophes, betrayals, disappointments as I had, if you lost lovers, jobs, missed opportunities, contracted fatal diseases, wrote angry letters to your father? Some of you would imbibe like I had, I suppose, but in 28 years of going without a drop of the stuff, there are millions more, from appearances, who walk past the liquor store and those taverns with the neon signs that blink and buzz with the promise of paradise and escape; somehow it occurs to the majority of the citizens to get busy and deal with the change in their fortunes.  

Not everyone who refuses to drink in the face of bad times come through their rough patches in better shape, but the point is that drinking to dissolve the problems, real and psychic, is not the default resource for the majority of the population. It seems to be for romantics, though, who, as a species, are prone to wallow at times in the extremities of their emotion at the sacrifice of all else. Hemingway comes into play; we imagine the spare code of conduct, the stoicism, the terse address of external occurrences in the world around him, the obsession with the super masculinity in which one is expected to bite the bullet and be honorable to an insane degree. 

Suffering in silence, writing poetry about drinking to make the disillusionment with the human condition tolerable and as a means of keeping hope and joy alive.  There was a time when I was part of this culture of self-reinforcing romanticism; life is a hardship, you drink to cope and soon enough your other coping skills vanish as you rely more on drinking in order to cope. Soon enough your hardships increase because of the drinking and the pressure from family, peers, and enemies for you to straighten out is too much, so you drink more to not just cope with the hardships of old and the new ones created by inevitable tragedies alcoholic drinking creates, but to make the world disappear. You become bitter, morose, morbid, cynical, continually inveighing against big and vague forces that destroyed your dreams.

So you drink in order to cope and escape, escaping the more important of the two intentions. Somewhere in an underlit corner of the brain is the nagging, chirping truth that you're drinking too much and that you should stop or perish, becoming an anonymous demonstration of Darwin's least attractive idea. Still, that five or so minutes of relief, the ahhhhhhhh that follows the first glottal gulp as the hooch seems to soothe the nerves and loosens the vise-like grip paranoia and anxiety have had on the brain are more or less worth the next several hours of binge drinking, from which more things get destroyed, dear friends and loved ones get called vile names, inexplicable phone calls to suicide hotlines are made, impossibly incoherent poems are written. 

The world becomes a small, sad place for you to be in.  Most the world around sees a sad case of someone who is the grip of some malady, some soul-shredding scourge who will die alone in the trash of his own making unless something resembling a miracle occurs. If you're a poet, a songwriter, someone who has made a reputation extolling the hard life and the hard-drinking that goes with it, you bear witness to what your romantic filters tell you is the Truth of the world and regard your rattled, besotted self as the price to pay for being so deep a reservoir for the boundless emotions of the human race, that a soul who feels so deeply the wounds of all humanity would have to drink in order to keep something like sanity and a sense of self wherein one can reside. A long, agonized spiral of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

REMEMBER THE 60S, SORT OF

Image result for been so long jorma
BEEN SO LONG:
My Life and Music
By Jorma Kaukonen
There's an old joke that goes "If you can remember the Sixties, you weren't there." Those 60 and over go ha-ha, ho-ho, I get it, too many flashbacks, too many bong hits, far too many uppers to balance all those downers, and, too many long drum solos. The conceit was that there was too much experience crammed into too-few years; many of us who thrived and jived on the wide, permissive mores of the Sixties ought to still be overwhelmed, asking ourselves what happened. Who among us might recollect that glorious experiment in living? Jorma Kaukonen, founding member of and lead guitarist for the definitive 60s/San Francisco band Jefferson Airplane, remembers and brings his recollections together in a new memoir Been So Long: My Life and Music. It's worth noting up front that the musician, a stalwart figure who preferred to remain in the background, quiet though attentive while fellow JA members Grace Slick and Paul Kanter did the many media interviews admits early on that the book is composed of his recollections of how he remembers events transpired, but that some of what he's recounting might be vague or incomplete in the telling. He offers a disclaimer in the introduction mentioning his imperfect recollection: "...this is my story as I remember it as seen through the prism of my mind's eye. I can do no better than that."

However reticent Kaukonen was to speak with the press at the peak of his fame with the Airplane (and later with Hot Tuna, his long-term folk and electric blues project with JA bassist Jack Casady), the author’s memory seems to serve him well in these pages. A second generation American of Finnish descent born in Washington DC in 1940, young Kaukonen had already seen much of the world, particularly Philippines and Pakistan courtesy of his father’s diplomatic corps assignments. His early years seemed a case of accidental wanderlust, his family from moving city to city, country to country, with Kaukonen, easily making friends in each new home though, it seems, shared interests in music, cars (“gearheads” as they called themselves) and, to be sure, girls. While in Washington he acquired a guitar and began learning traditional folk songs, learned the advantages of keeping his guitar tuned, and made a lifelong friendship with future JA bassist Jack Casady. What Kaukonen realized was that playing music was pretty much what he wanted to do, and muses that music seemed the elixir that made brought a dimension to his life than just merely existing and putting with boring jobs and mean people. Laconically and tersely, he concludes “Music seemed to me to be the reward for being alive.”

The first half of the book is full of reminisces about his family, his two sets of grandparents from Europe in the quest for the opportunities migrations to America promised, and he speaks fondly, lovingly of his parents, aunts and uncles and shares what he recalls of their expectations of a new life in the promised land. Most tellingly, though, was Kaukonen’s seemingly slow but eventual emersion into music. We see in negotiation with his father for a guitar, his playing DC clubs with Casady, with fake IDs, when Casady was playing lead guitar and Kaukonen played rhythm. And we see his growing interest in folk music styles that would become the defining essence of what would become his electric guitar style with Jefferson Airplane. Developing into a fine finger picker and with an affinity for the simple and elegantly articulated patterns of folk-blues, Kaukonen incorporated these techniques into his eventual electric work for the Airplane, giving them a rattling guitar sound unique in an era where every other guitarist fashioned Clapton impersonations. Kaukonen’s style slid and slithered, his leads full of peculiar tunings, odd emphasis on blues bends, and a jarring vibrato that made teeth chatter and nerve endings fire up. It was a style that informed the Airplane’s best songs— “Lather”, “White Rabbit”, “Greasy Heart”—and which was a sound that was an essential part of the complex and wonderful weave that characterized this band’s best albums, from Jefferson Airplane Takes Off through Volunteers.

At a point, Jefferson Airplane was among the top bands of the era, one of the top bands in the world, originating in the countercultural environs of San Francisco and adventuring beyond those city blocks to perform historical rock gigs such as the Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock. It was something of a charmed life, Kaukonen was earning a good amount of money. He was, he admits, willing to start spending it, buying homes, new cars, new equipment. The band was at the top of their game, and on a Dick Cavett, Show following the last night of the Woodstock Art and Music Festival, a myriad of performers—David Crosby, Joni Mitchell, the Airplane, Steve Stills among them—sat around a rather casual set for the program and bantered breathlessly about the monumental experience they’d all just been through. In the afterglow, at that moment, it seemed as though Ralph Gleason’s mid-Sixties prediction in Rolling Stone that the Sixties Youth, spearheaded by the music, musicians, troubadours, and poets of the time, would change America profoundly, enact a revolution without bloodshed or bombs. The music would set you free. Believe me, I was there, watching the Cavett show at least in my parent’s basement TV, as well as reading the newspaper and 6pm news reports on the massive concert. For a few minutes, just a few, it all seemed possible, especially when watching the beautiful and brilliant Grace Slick and the Teutonically authoritative Paul Kanter lay it out what many took to be a forecast of the American future. Kaukonen was on the set as well, in the background, sitting with his guitar. He was happy to let Slick and Kanter do the talking; as reiterates through the narrative that he was happy to play his guitar and let others be the prophets.


There is much ground Kaukonen tries to cover in Been So Long, but there is a lack of urgency on the author’s part to offer detail, specifics, characteristics or insights connected to the material progression of his story. He is an able writer that conveys a personality that’s sufficiently humble after the long, strange trip he’s been on. He has gratitude for the gift that has been bestowed upon him and humble in the face of the hard times and deviltries he’s survived.  But there is a kind of cracker-barrel philosophy in tone, a succession of incidents, occasions, fetes, celebrations and disappointments in his life, told in sketchy detail summarized with a cornball summation, a reworked cliché, a platitude passing as hindsight. He mentions family, wives, children, famous musicians in a continual flow of circumstances, but does not actually say much beyond the convenient sentiment when you expect him to give a hard-won perspective of his adventures before and after the Rock and Roll Life. Despite having a life’s story that might otherwise seem impossible to tell in a dull manner, Kaukonen is intent on doing just that.

He does not tell tales out of school, he doesn’t reveal the quirks of his friends.  what he might consider the essence of their genius; structurally the book reads as if it were compiled from notecards and handwritten journals, arranged in order (more or less), assembled for a rapid walk- through rather a revelation of what drew an artistic temperament to this kind of life at all. Kaukonen’s reticence to write more deeply prevents a fascinating and unique tale on the face of it from being more compelling.  It’s as if he’s talking about things he would rather not disclose; the half-measured commitment shows up when he mentions his increasing reliance upon an addiction to alcohol through the book’s chapters. Using phrases from the principal writings of Alcoholics Anonymous as well and peppering his text with 12 step mottos, it’s apparent from those in recovery where the musician got help for this alcoholism. A large part of the A.A. program is for members to find a God of their understanding, a power greater than oneself which can help them with their problem. For those who have a “God Problem”, the fellowship also refers generically to “a power greater than oneself”. A god of one’s own understanding? Fair enough, but Kaukonen here takes to writing God as “G-d” for reasons that remain explained. It’s one thing to not demand that others have the have the same theology as yourself, but it’s another to routinely omit an offending “O” when the world God comes into expressive play. Being more forthcoming on this quirk, offering a reason for the eccentric use, would have offered more light on the outline Kaukonen offers. It is a small mystery, an annoying one, a recurring bump in the road that stops the reader; what is Kaukonen not telling us?

Perhaps an as-told-to memoir like Keith Richard’s memoir Life would have eased more nuance and insight and crucial detail from the hesitant Kaukonen. Richards, speaking at length and on-the-record with collaborator James Fox, the Rolling Stones guitarist speaks frankly and at length about the highlights and low spots of his life in music; free to speak as he pleased to Fox’s probing questions and not having to worry about censoring himself while at the typewriter or with pen-in-hand, Life is a witty, harrowing, bristling account of one remarkable musician’s life. On the surface, Kaukonen’s tale is as full and intriguing as a rock and roll biography requires— worldly as a young man, ROTC, a lover of music and cars, a founding member of one of the most significant bands of the Sixties in the midst of a major cultural revolution, drugs, money, fame, glory, flaming out, regrouping—the outline is here, yet Kaukonen does little to flesh it out or reveal the sex, sizzle, and drama under the facts and their note-card descriptions. Richard’s work with a collaborator allowed his mouth to run as long as it needed to tell the best story he had, his own, the final payoff is an engrossing read blessed with Richard’s hard-won and refreshingly offhand wisdom. The Jefferson Airplane guitarist is not so garrulous, is reflectively taciturn and terse, in fact. One needs to respect his right to tell his story as he sees appropriate; the shame is that what is likely a great story doesn’t so much get told as mentioned in passing.

Been So Long remains a fascinating read and is an interesting addition of first-hand accounts of the psychedelic revolution in the 60s from a key player. The irony here is that Kaukonen does indeed remember the decade—he just doesn’t see the need to get into the weeds, dig in the dirt and relate something fuller, an account of a life fully lived.

(This first appeared in the San Diego Troubadour. Used with kind permission)








Monday, January 28, 2019

SYLVIA PLATH:The Worship of the Dead

There was a bit of commotion concerning the cover of the 50th-anniversary edition of the late Sylvia Plath's touchstone novel, The Bell Jar, an understandable misgiving on the part of the book's loyalists. The book, a wrenching, semi-autobiographical narrative about a young woman's slide into mental illness, is a serious, unfunny, poetic evocation of female insanity and is a hallmark of a good amount of Feminist literary criticism. it is not a laughing matter, but publishers, like other media corporations with long term holdings, at times feel compelled to update a commodity's image for a younger crowd that has yet to read a masterpiece of misery. Presto, the 50th Anniversary Edition features a woman's profile gazing into a compact mirror, applying to make up; Plath's attempt to write her demons out of commission is made to resemble the worst version of Chic Lit. Plath deserves better. It's a good book and it requires an honest presentation.

Has anyone said that they are exhausted by the relentless attention accorded the late and legendary Sylvia Plath? Am I the only one who thinks that we ought to stop metaphorically digging up Sylvia Plath's body so we may once again gawk at her bony remains through a lens of deferred yearning? Generation after generation discovers and rediscovers her work, which is fine, but the grave robbing worship that goes on here elevates her literary worth beyond sane judgment. There is a death cult within the legions of her admirers whose applied aesthetic insists that the extreme personalist poets achieve greatness only when they perform their final and greatest act, their suicide. It's disgusting stuff, and it's perverse to think that there was once an active set of famous poets whose art could be deemed successful if their lives ended under odious circumstances.

I'm not averse to regarding Plath as a major American poet--she showed a compelling, surreal, tortured brilliance that was fully realized although her time was brief. What concerns me is the virtual cult of Plath who mistake her tragedy as having something to do with her art, and regard her writing as perfect precisely because committed suicide. This has more do with martyr making and nothing to do with her powerful, sometimes brilliant writing. The cultist obsession with her brief life causes many to miss the fact that she was a poet to be considered as an artist, not an example of the skewed notion of beauty. There seems to be an addiction to a what many of created as a figure of Mythic Suffering, another Jesus stand-in, upon whose rumored visage and back story one may read their own sufferings and take solace that their shared misery's finest expression was from a victim who never overcame their ills, travails and psychic deterioration. It stops being about poetry and the empathy it creates, the connection it brings the reader with larger experience; the poems become stations of the cross, with each wound ogled and slathered upon. It is messy.

One wonders what it would have been like had Plath found sufficient reason to live on, and what sort of writing she might have done with all the years she might have had. Might she become a depressed dowager internalizing each private grief to the extent that her dry skin might literally crack under pressure. Would she have abandoned poetry altogether and found religion, spending her remaining years and charisma attacking the secularist tradition? Written a cookbook? Or might she have developed a sense of humor and dismissed her early work as her own form of "rhythmic grumbling"?

The problem with short artist lives is that they usually leave behind a brief body of work, which prevents us from speculating where she might have gone with her work, or the kind of person she may have evolved into. As such, her poems and her novel are lyric agitations, occasionally brilliant, often hysterical and shrill, always at the pitch of a clenched fist pounding a trash can or a car horn stuck on it's one long, loathsome note. It's a vicarious thrill thing, I suppose, a loose-fitting necrophilia. Those sensitive souls who died young also died perfect, cut down in their prime, never given the chance to grow old, to fail at something or to betray anyone's expectations by maturing. This, I guess, is unavoidable and there's not much one can do except perhaps reacting to four decades worth of repeated hype and hoopla about Plath. What is especially aggravating has been the seduction of many a otherwise fine reviewers who've embroidered the allure of her suicide into their evaluation of her standing as a poet; it's a bizarre kind of affirmative action, in which her death and her gender and her craziness entitle her to a pass on an analysis based solely on her writing. She is, in fact, an unfinished talent, and how good she might have become is an aspect that's unknowable. Better poets have died young who haven't garnered a scintilla of posthumous adoration as Plath has. It's marketing, I think. Ted Hughes and literary agents knew they had an exploitable commodity with the deceased Sylvia Plath, and sustaining the myth around her certainly has kept the holders of her literary rights flush with money from fans who are attracted to Plath for all the reasons except the right one, a love of good work.

The Plath we know was a tragedy in one and a half acts. Enough. Put her back in the coffin, lower it into the grave, and throw on the dirt. Life isn't for everyone, and she made her choice. It is to her enduring credit that she wrote some brilliant poems despite her encroaching instability; we should read and discuss her poems and stop valorizing the condition that compelled her to leave this world. 

Friday, January 25, 2019

THE WORLD VANISHES AND WILL NOT LEAVE US ALONE

Image result for mao 11 delillo
MAO ll-- 
a novel by Don DeLillo

Don DeLillo's novel Mao ll shows the writer at the height of his powers, a novel that highlights an individuals experience of seeing the coherence of his belief system erode and chip apart as forces, historical and economic, invade that area of life that had seemed safe for so long. Potent writing, one of those characters is a reclusive Pynchon (or DeLillo) stand -in whose absence of new work or public appearance has created a presence larger than literary reputation alone could manage: if we talk about the speed at which disparate events suddenly seem to converge and become linked through the slimmest of resemblances, this is the novel to start with. This DeLillo at his championship best--he is superb at amassing the telling details his characters surround themselves in a secure themselves with. Likewise, he effectively conveys how intervening events readily dismantle a homemade cosmology.

The novel's fabled author, sensing that he is nearing the end of his creative potency, agrees to come is seclusion to participate in a large public reading to support an obscure poet who has been abducted by terrorists ; he emerges from the world of the secluded artist who has control of his creativity and the consequences of his choices and reenters the world he withdrew from, the world he nominal takes his inspiration from, and is subject again to the ebb and flow of events he assumed he finally understood through a career of fictionalizing it. DeLillo here does some of the best writing I've come across about the practice of writing, or rather, the rituals of writing; the novelist is working on an eagerly anticipated novel that will place his long career in perspective, but the reader witnesses isn't a conclusion being achieved, but rather stalling.

There are revisions, a retyping of notes, editorial changes, alterations of format, more research to do, more cross-indexing to be done before the manuscript can be submitted to the publisher and the judgment of history. Death, of course, is easily detected presence here, hanging over the composing and collating procedures like some cloud threatening to rain, but DeLillo defers reference to the inevitability and concentrates instead on the intensity of the busy work the novelist and his assistant engage in during their work sessions; there is a focus on the details of narrative and the word choices that serve as background noise, a loud music of a kind that keeps the lurking notion that there are no more words to come after this book is completed and out of his hands. Getting started again, becoming interested in a new idea to the degree that one is willing to subject themselves to another span of time of research, writing, and revision. Mailer had commented while he was writing his final novel The Castle in the Forest that he was "...going to finish this novel, or it's going to finish me," summarizing perfectly the process of writing as an activity that requires every resource one has to commit to a book they think needs to be written.

One does feel used up and empty after the last correction is made and the manuscript is shipped out; the prospect of starting over again for the next book is daunting, and the idea of starting a new work late in life, admitting the possibility that one might die before the work is done is a frightening prospect. One does not want to be found in the midst of their unfinished business, whatever it might be. The stalling tactics of DeLillo's fictional novelist become understandable: delay the completion of the book, extend the length of one's life. The question, though, is whether the quality of life, on those conditions, rises above being a kind of stasis-defined Limbo. Is a life predicated on the non-engagement of one's creative instinct worth sticking around for?